Friday, June 02, 2006

but she's out with her answerphone

Type a thousand words of regret into notepad. Erase them, start again. How many times is that now? More than enough, you answer. The words never quite fit. Which friend are you writing about this time? I'm not sure - maybe all of them, you answer. You try again, this time in public; words have always failed you when it came to the truth. They probably still will. You try anyway.

Jeff Buckley

Morning Theft

Your first friend sat with you in a kebab shop that's long since been burnt down - accidentally by its own staff, no less. Huh, ironic, you think. She sits there so effervescent, her hands always moving, your eyes always darting about - the ceiling, the staff, the customers, the food, your words - everything takes on a new meaning, a new life, a new freshness when you are with her. You look away from her; out the window - you've always loved windows; looking out, looking in - raining outside: I guess I don't mind walking in the rain with her, you think.

You look back and she's made you a star out of an aluminium ashtray. You didn't smoke at this point in your life. This star: it looks like a piece of rubbish yet to be disposed of. To you it is something special, something to be cherished, a remarkable gesture, your first gift from your new best friend. You get home, hold it in your hands and then set it down... the next day you wake up and it's gone; dumped. Huh, ironic, you think, as you sit here typing these words thinking of all that happened after; all that hasn't happened since.


Your second friend was your next best friend; she wasn't a replacement. Every friend is different, special in their own way, this one is special: truly, truly special. Others stare and gawk; watch you like hawks. They think there is something more than friendship - there has to be, look at how they laugh; they think if they stare long enough it will appear, it will be written in your eyes. There isn't anything to be seen, of course, but it puts a weight between you. A heaviness hangs in the air; words unspoken, difficulties raised. You never knew what to do about these things; so you ignore them, convince yourself everything's going to be ok.

You sit beside each other, stare at the sky, the clouds, pick out patterns and faces, tell secrets that no one else would want to know. You listen to each other. Now after everything the main thing you remember is laughing with her; at friends, at music, at stupid things, at important things - laughter was your escape. These days you laugh sometimes, but it's never a real laugh. It's always a bitter laugh, ha ha ha, isn't it funny how things turn out. The guy who wrote the song you best relate to is now dead; drowned in a river, and no one will ever know whether it was an accident or not.


Lyrics stand out when they're sang by such a melodious, beautiful, and powerful voice: "friendships battered down by useless history / unexamined failure", "what am I still to you? / some thief who stole from you / or some fool drama queen whose chances were few", "though the meaning fits, there's no relief in this / I miss my beautiful friend". Sometimes friendships fall into place, and sometimes they don't, but no matter what, sometimes it's impossible to let go. So you're trying to hold onto the ones that do, while mourning and possibly repairing the ones that don't. Jeff Buckley helps. It's an ok world, isn't it? You realise you're smiling. This is the first time, since...

Relevant Bonus x 3:

The Frames - Star Star (live at the Fine Line Music Café)
Alexi Murdoch - Song For You
Cloud Cult - As Long as You're Happy (live at KEXP)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It's a song of commas; not full stops.

Azure Ray


It's that feeling of being so down, it's a drag to even get out of bed in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or the evening. Or even at all. What does this world have to offer me? Is there beauty in sadness? Or is there just sadness? Maybe I should be thankful for this feeling. It's an understanding; it's not bitterness, it's simple resignation. Maybe things could be different. Maybe things were meant to be this way. But it can be consoling to sometimes just fall apart. Let all the pieces come together at their own pace. Every flower in time will bend towards the sun. Everything will fall into place. Maybe time does heal all wounds, but for now, I'm accepting this feeling of pure, unadulterated sadness. "Hey, look how low I've sunk / Don't ask me to rise / I lost you when I was high".

This song exudes such sentimentality, but not sloppily. It's... pretty - for lack of a better word. Listening to it is like sitting inside, with the window open, watching a drizzle fall from the sky. The sun is out, the raindrops are falling, and there is a rainbow. A little ray of hope in all the sadness. It's a song that calls to mind elongated vowel sounds; soft smooth contours; the smile on the face of the person you love, as the tears fall down their cheek; the smell of their perfume lingering on your pillow - you still hold that pillow close to your chest three months later.

It's a song that echoes and resounds and lays down to rest within your heart, like the baby Jesus laying his head upon a bed of straw. The vocal-line is a waterfall, a lake, a reservoir; calmly flowing tap-water, not so much splashing into the sink as touching it briefly, before moving on. It's a song of commas; not full-stops. And it's perfect for lying in bed to, either before you go to sleep, or before you find the resolve to leave the house in the morning. "Today I crawl out of bed." [Find out more...]


Azure Ray - Displaced

*Notes: Read to understand.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The death of a weapons specialist...

Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke - Harrowdown Hill [click link, click another link, download]

Radiohead have always been a politically conscious band; Hail To The Thief was a blatant snipe at the American elections. Thus it shouldn’t really be a surprise that on Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser - which is in effect a collaboration with Radiohead’s longest running producer Nigel Godrich - more of Yorke’s social frustrations get vented.


Dr David Kelly - a weapons specialist - said five months before his death that he would "probably be found dead in the woods" if the American and British invasion of Iraq went ahead. In the events leading up to this, Kelly came under fire from the Ministry of Defence who allegedly put him “through the ringer”, after he admitted to a BBC journalist, that the dossier intended to persuade the invasion was “sexed-up”. For example, the dossier claimed that Iraq could have their nuclear weapons equipped and deployed within 45 minutes – an untruth according to Kelly.

According to Barney Leith, secretary of the National Spiritual assembly of Britain, “The teachings of the Baha'i faith strongly emphasise the importance of ... keeping one's word." This faith is one which Kelly himself prescribed to, and it is likely that he took his own life out of a feeling of guilt. This guilt arose from his involvement in the dossier, and also his promises to Iraqi officials and scientists to whom he had given his word that co-operation with weapons inspections would prevent an invasion from going ahead. However, if an invasion did go ahead, Kelly felt he “would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions".


Kelly’s prophecy was a self-fulfilling one – he committed suicide and was found on Harrowdown Hill, with his wrists slit. Thom Yorke glares as he sings on his techno melodrama, Harrowdown Hill, “don’t ask me, ask the Ministry”. The whole song revolves around the thoughts that must have been circling Kelly’s head at the time he decided to end it all; the lyrics understandably bitter, especially the opening lines: “Don’t walk the plank like I did / You will be dispensed with / When you become inconvenient”.

As you would expect from such an outspoken and seemingly anti-Government (even anti-everything, would fit) figure, Yorke explores whether it was actually suicide or whether it may have been simply a case of manslaughter by the press, the MoD, the Government: “did I fall or was I pushed?” The entirety of the song is a glaring indictment of media pressure, and the fragility of the human heart. Exploring loneliness and how much a man can take: “I can't take the pressure / No one cares if you live or die / They just want me gone”.

If you didn’t know what the song was about, you would be forgiven for thinking it was typical Radiohead fare - if ever-so-slightly gloomier - but when you put the song into context and realise what it’s actually about, it becomes a political point, a moving, socially-conscious vignette that further proves the relevance of Yorke as a songwriter – capable of getting to the core of an issue and inside the heart of its subject. It hits you like a Bukowski poem - your heart is floored, but your head has trouble dealing with all the points raised. You don't know whether you agree or disagree - hell you don't know if there's even anything you can agree or disagree with - you just know that somewhere inside you something broke and you're both inspired and terrified. All you want to do is lie down; but you know you'll have the song on repeat instead.

*Sources: Guardian, BBC, BBC
*Notes: that Bukowski poem I linked is really fucking good.
Trust me.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This is real-life (part 2)

Nathan Asher and The Infantry

Turn Up The Faders

It's the summer, you're ten, the sun is out; lights breaks all around; blue skies filled with floating white clouds. It's a beautiful day for playing football; running around on the grass, your mother warns you not to hit any windows, you laugh, and when you do hit one it's a joke, it's funny, it's shared with friends and you're all laughing. You're not a vandal, you're just a kid; this life is brilliant.

Tired from all the running about you head over to the ice-cream van, get a 99 with that Flake that you like so much. Eat it up, spill some on your shirt - it was a mess anyway from the grass-stains. Time to lie down, you lie next to the grass of your neighbours caravan - you don't live here, but it's your holiday home, it's a good place to escape.

Take the ball down to the beach and the wind blows it away so you're down in the sand and you're running out into the sea, and you're sweating, can't wait to dive in - hang on a second - this... this water's freezing. It's all in good fun something about the sunlight has made this day your own, it's there to be seized and you grab it pull it down - like in Bruce Almighty where he ties a string around the moon and pulls it closer - and you hold it in your arms. Your friends are your friends, and this summer has been brilliant.


It's only eight years later but suddenly things make less sense, you're still a kid but the world has changed it's not so receptive of you; when you do things you do them on your own - your friends help out sometimes, but rarely, only when you really need it. And you really need help most of the time; it burns you out the stress from your job, your education, you're tired, so tired, you did an eleven hour shift after getting two hours sleep, where was the sense in that, why do you do it why are these sentences falling from your mind and onto your fingertips where did the punctuation go why is everything so damn hard and everything it just



This song to me is the transition from those silly summers to the reality of real-life. No wonder it won the John Lennon songwriting competition. It aptly describes the way things were when we were younger and then progresses to flit around lust, alcohol... everything. Listen to the lyrics and you will understand; "encouraged to dance emphatically, manicly, even desperately"; "using liquor as a tourniquet"; "let's succumb to our desires / before we become just like our fathers". We are a desperate generation; endlessly discontent: "this used to be enough for me, now it isn't". Musically, it's that scene in Good Will Hunting when the eponymous protagonist is describing his social-life.


No, but, I mean you know...I do other
things. That no one knows about.

Like what, Will?

I go places, I interact.

What places?

Certain, clubs.
Like, Fantasy. It's not bad.

Will gives the Psychologist a furtive look.

WILL (cont'd)
It's just that feeling when you can
take your shirt off and really dance.
When the music owns you. Do you


I think I can understand that. It's the loss of innocence, and it's right there in the ending: Here's to all the new beginnings / We never got back from. [Find out more...]

Monday, May 29, 2006

This is real-life

This marks the first-post in an on-going theme of songs that are more spoken-word than most music you'll find. They all tend to have indie/rock sensibilities, the emotions made all the more palpable due to their spoken-word nature. The first of these is a mixture of spoken-word and singing, but I believe it's a nice choice to ease you in.

Okkervil River

Okkervil River - For Real

The tension is there from the beginning. The tentative voice is hiding its underlying emotion, but not very well. The guitar is turned up too loud, the amplifier is set to eleven - Spinal Tap style. The softly stroked chords come out louder than you'd expect for such tender playing. The guitarist stabs at the strings - you knew it was coming but you didn't know it would come so suddenly; you see the unveiling of the tension but it's still there and it remains there. Everything makes sense after the solo. But you're still just listening to the voice.

You hear no words, just noise. You hear a wounded tiger, trapped in a net, just trying to escape. It's a plaintive cry and you don't care what's being said, you don't want to spoil it; you can feel this music inside you - you know it makes sense. You want to cry, but this isn't a crying song - the drums, the guitars, the synths carry it along and its about redemption, it's about letting go.

The song ends; you feel better - cleansed but still on edge. You take a drink, it's too diluted, you make it stronger, you drink it up, you drink it straight, you take the edge off - just about - you get drunk you put the song on again and you start shouting at your friends, "I heard someone say this was the best single of last year. It really is. What do you mean you don't agree? What do you mean you don't... I need to lie down, I need to curl up, I'm going to bed, I'm going to sleep, don't wake me. Please, don't wake me..."